O21 (Review): It is the farthest Pakistani Cinema has gone in ‘Brains’

Movie Name: Operation 021

Release Date: 6 October 2014

Director: Jami Mahmood and Summer Nicks

Review by: Aayan Mirza

The O21 gang; from the very first day, from the very first brush of the film with the media and headlines, has propagated it to be an intelligent film, a ‘brainer’, perhaps the Syriana of Pakistan film industry, and well, that is exactly what I was served with.

The word ‘intelligent’ is being associated with O21 a lot these days, by many people, in various comments. No one, however, seems to be explaining what they actually mean by this word. For the subsequent use of the word in this review, here is what I mean: Minutely detailed, deeply plotted and contemporary in terms of its overall execution.

Now with that explained, let’s get to the review.

Story, Script and Screenplay:

A spy thriller in itself is an intelligent genre. Not every ‘Bond..James Bond…’ is a spy thriller, at least not in the definition of it in 2014. The genre has been through to an evolution that took its current shape with the advent of Jason Bourne series into the genre at the start of this century. Even the James Bond franchise had to reinvent itself after that, what used to be majorly about style and overly smart gadgets today stands as pace, class and substance. Pace, class and substance, the three O21 has.

O21 is a Pakistani film, but it is not about Pakistan. The fight is for the mega reserves of Lithium in Afghanistan. There is a self-righteous, self-protecting CIA, a hungry, profit selfish mining corporation, or corporations if seen in larger perspective (only in names and shadows), then there are Afghans, the good ones, the bad ones, and proportionally smaller Pakistanis, again, the good ones, the bad ones. Pakistan is more of a ‘facilitating’ country in the story, for the bigger proxy game that is being played in the region.

The screenplay is such that even though the first half is still unfolding the story, a few scenes would come where you would still say, ‘Man, is it really ending this soon.’ There are twists and turns — some very sharp, and there are ups and downs even in the very first half of the film. The first half, however, may feel comparatively a little dragged, but that’s the case with most of the films these days. It maybe dragged, and too centered on two or three characters, maximum four, but it is in no way spoon-feeder. You have to be excellently attentive, even to the subtitles as O21 has played it all natural as far as the linguistics and the overall scene settings go. You blink once, and you maybe annoying your neighbour with a lot of whats, hows and wheres for the remaining length of the film.

The real treat is the second half. Not only it inherits the intelligent game playing and speed from the first half, but it also keeps you on the edge of your chair. Man, you are not going to get bored. The second half is the real ‘Paisa Vasool’. This is where you at last get to empty your popcorn box and the diluted Pepsi. Loaded with action, here espionage joins hand-to-hand combat, torture, snipers, pistols, and a yellow Piano pen.

One slight disappointment was the CIA part in USA. It was empty with CIA being shown as just three guys. There is what could be a mega disaster in the cooking pot, and merely three people are dealing with it. And by the way, that Capitol Hill building of US congress is not CIA headquarters.

Overall, a good effort in making the film look compact, rock solid in the story.

Acting/Role Distribution:   

Oh wow. The best part of the film. I mean, what else do you expect when there is Ayub Khoso, Shaan Shahid, Hameed Sheikh, Aamina Sheikh, Joe Towne and Shamoon Abbasi carrying the film.  I don’t think I need to say much about it. But..but..but, let me tell you, there is no single hero in the film. Everyone has his or her moments. There are times when you would feel Ayub Khoso is the main lead, then you would say, ‘umm no, I guess it’s about Shaan’. Then you would feel, ‘okay it’s about Hameed Sheikh.’ And at the end you might also feel that Tatmain-ul-Qulb is some sort of hero in the film too. But, in actuality, the plot of the film was the real hero, the chip was the real hero. Everyone else was merely a carrier of it, of the story.  A particular mention goes for Shamoon and Aamina Sheikh. The lady made her mark amongst the biggest names in the film and Shamoon looked far more solid and alive than what his character in Waar was. And by the way, the film is not another Waar and Shamoon is not the negative lead in this one.

The people above don’t really need any words. Their performances in the film were as good as their names tell. They don’t need any special mention, so instead, let’s talk about those who did surprise in the film…and those who did not manage to make their mark.

One role that at the end you would so desire to be bigger than it is in the film, is of Gohar Rasheed. A small, heavily background music supported stint, but wow. Thoroughly enjoyable performance. ‘Thrilling’ it is in one word.

But Gohar’s performance came as part and parcel to Bilal Ashraf’s character. Another great find of Pakistan film industry, and another man with an awesome future ahead. Bilal’s role was anything but swift. It was cruel, bumpy and havoc breathing, all executed excellently.

The others did a good job too. Wendy Haines was hot and sour in her character, and annoyingly good at times. James Hallet was the ‘papa’ like figure in the film; humble, soft, trying to do good things. Summer Nicks and Daniyal Raheel also gave some satisfactory performances in their role. Ayaz Samoo was merely there to have some hand to hand combat with Shaan and receive some punches from him on his face and ribs.

If you feel your favourite actor didn’t get much space in the film, well, neither did Shaan. And if the screen presence really has to be the decider, then Hameed Sheikh is the lead man here.

Overall, a great show put up by everyone in whatever space he or she had.

Direction & Cinematography:

Direction was right there up to the mark. Great work done by Jami and Summer Nicks. O21, from scene one to its last one, carried an authentic film feel. The film however, was too dark for my liking, though one can debate that it couldn’t have been any different due to the specific timeline the story runs on.

The cinematography was excellent too. Some real daring work done there. The hand-held camera scenes, although got a little out of control at times, but supported the overall structure of the film well.

Jami has, for sure, put his work right up there with that of Bilal Lashari. In many instances, even exceeding that..by miles.

So overall, not many points to deduct here. The good thing, as mentioned earlier, is that O21 looked like a proper film, actually made for cinemas.

Visuals and Background Score:

As far as the visuals are concerned, they are mostly dark, but the finest you would see in any Pakistani film so far. The film looked real, the sets were live, the situations were very connected, and they were absolutely amazingly shot. But again, the film is dark, which coupled with frequent subtitles coming and going and the brainy structure of the story, demanded a lot more from a common cinema goer.

The background score was quite aptly structured and used in the film. Specially with the thriller bits of the feature. It really managed to amplify and uplift those situations. But in few scenes, the music does get annoyingly interfering with certain situations, dialogues and performances. In this one scene towards the ending of the film, the background score annoyingly ate an important part of Shamoon’s dialogue, to make things worse were the booming gun shots.

Still, a nice, breathable effort here too.

The Verdict:

O21 is the most intelligent Pakistani cinema has ever been. It won’t spoon feed you everything, you have to make deliberate efforts to remain attentive, conscious and seriously into the film. You can’t miss to watch even an inch of the screen. O21 is absolutely not a propaganda film, but instead presents an intelligent case. It might compel you enough to Google certain things when you get back home. It is a masterpiece that can easily be put right there with any spy-thriller in the world. A great effort overall. Galaxy Lollywood gives it 4 stars out of 5.

Just your average writer/editor based in Karachi, who has the OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) to use commas (Oxford Commas, especially), and edit the heck out of editable pieces.Also, love movies, TV shows more than the movies, and books over everything else.If you find editorial mistakes or have any other feedback over the content of the website, I would appreciate if you email me at: [email protected]


  1. This is a terrible review. You have no idea how bad this film is and intelligent is the last word I would use for it. It is an amateur attempt by an immature mind on the geopolitics of this region. The sound was awful, the background score was off, the dialogues were childish, there was more katrina kaif pictures than amina shaikh in the movie, her character seemed to have no purpose. My advice, delete this blog, shut yourself down and go get yourself a bloody clue about the art of film making and how to review it. I give the movie 1 star out of 5 and your blog a 0 for lack of intelligence and for acting like you know anything about films.

    • Yeah you go wacth Bang Bang. Maybe that will match your intellect. A movie doesn’t have to be true to be a movie. Yes it wasn’t the perfect one, and I might not agree with review entirely, but it was nevertheless a good effort. It really has gone the farthest in brains. I agree with that. The sound was off however, and a few dialogues were a bit cheezy, but look at it as whole.

    • I guess then IMDB is also giving it wrong ratings which currently is 9/10 or should we go with ur ratings instead of IMDB?

      • Madiha, IMDB is a separate film database website, that rates a film based on average public rating to the film, and we have rated the film as per our reviews on it. IMDB rated the film out of 10, and we rated it out of 5 maximum rating points. We gave the film 4 stars out of 5, which, if stretched to IMDB’s 10 point based ratings means 8/10. What’s the big deal? We rate it 8/10, IMDB rates it 9/10.

  2. Watched Operation 21 last evening. Loved it. Expected a bigger role of Shaan but I can live wid it since the movie ws really good. Great detailed review. Agree with each word. Will watch Fahad’s film today.

  3. Congrats to All ‘O21″ fans………..Now you’ve got urselves a “Celluloid Newspaper” with HD picture n sound quality……This makes Pakistan, first country to introduce such dimensions to Cinema………..I suppose the makers were convinced to OMIT all the THree(3) fundamentals of Silver Screen,……..Entertainment…..Entertainment….Entertainment……….they might as well hire these Multiplexes for ISI n CIA presentations in future………….Wellll…….it was a sheer wrath of enigmatic perplexities and substandard performance…………..For the most adamant creatures yet willing to buy tickets…………please be cautious of conditions like Migraine, Hypertension, Hemicrania, Insomnia, Neuralgia, Sciatica, and most probable one i.e Paranoid Schizophrenia


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